First trip on a Vulcan 500
This post probably should be in the "New Riders" section.
OK guys. You say youíre a newbie. Just how new are you? You have several thousand miles under your belt now and havenít even dropped your bike once. Congratulations. Your confidence is building and youíre almost to the point of calling yourself a motorcycle rider. Youíve managed to keep your first bike, new or older, in good repair and it runs great. Now youíre thinking about that first road trip adventure. Youíre getting excited planning your vacation days off from work during the best riding days. You read all about what the experts say to take with you, and itís a ridiculously long list. To heck with that, you can figure it out better yourself. You read about all the good motorcycling roads on the internet, and are in awe at the great pictures of beautiful scenery you can experience in person. Hey, this can actually be done. You saved just enough money, if everything goes as planned, and besides, youíll pack your camping gear if money runs short. And of course it will. Everybody else does it, and so can you by golly. Youíve been meaning to read some of those great books that some of the forum members talk about that you really need to read. But you just never seem to take the time to find them. Besides, they cost money, and youíll need all you have for the trip. Youíve talked this up to all your buddies, couldnít help yourself, and your balls are on the line now. You gotta do it!
Thatís how I envision the prospect of a motorcycle adventure for you younger guys. Iím a bit older, perhaps a little wiser but not smarter by any means. I donít have to worry about vacation time cause Iím long past that, and money, well, that is a concern but not a great issue. My wife will be OK financially if anything bad happens, and I still have that spark of adventure, just like you young guys. So, much of the above applied to me, and I still have a pair and want to use em before I lose em.
I just got back from a nine day, 2,750 mile road trip from central Florida to mid Texas, on my great little stock Vulcan 500. Visited many interesting places in all states in between, and rode some of the very best and very worst roads imaginable. Some of the best motorcycle roads were in the bayou area in southern Louisiana, and some of the worst I believe were in Mississippi. Not picking on you Mississippians mind you. I used to live there. To get to different areas quickly, the interstates are the only way to go. Except if you are in Texas. Just about everywhere the speed limit is 75 on two lane roads! Hallelujah! And you see very few marked LEO vehicles, or they stay well hidden.
I was advised to take many photographs, but Iím not much of a camera guy and brought back a total of twelve. Five each at a couple tourist traps and two of my trusty 500. Besides, all I really wanted to do was ride, look, and explore. I had one breakdown, and with Bikerbillís help managed to ride on down the road. I wanted to explore the Rockies in Colorado, but wasnít prepared for the cold temps at altitude this time of year. Iím planning on doing that in a couple months.
A fine young man, 40 years my junior accompanied me on half of the trip. He rode a new, stock Triumph Scrambler, knobby tires, no windshield or saddlebags, and was loaded down, or should I say loaded up to the gills. We rode in the rain, on the interstate in mighty awful wind behind a front, but for the most part had excellent weather. I couldnít have hung to those handlebars like he did at 75 mph, especially in the wind. Tough guy, Colby is. He loaded for camping every night, but ended up only getting in one night of that. And he ainít sorry. And he won his trip money in Biloxi. Lucky guy. For you Vulcan 500 guys out there, that 865cc Triumph hasnít got anything over on our bikes, at least on the hiway.
I didnít take any maps, instead relied on a new auto gps. Donít rely on just that. They are good, but you really need some state maps to get the big picture and better route planning. Surprised I was that the convenience stores donít carry them anymore. Get free ones at the state welcome centers.
We met some very helpful folks who were interested in our doings. One interesting thing; Nearly all were HD drivers, in their pickup trucks - very friendly and wanting to point us to the best places. But not so friendly if they were on their Harleys. Must be taboo I guess. And donít pass a big Harley on the slab. He will chase you for 80 miles if it takes it to pass you up. I got a good story about passing a group of three big Harleys in Alabama. I think one was trailing smoke though. Story for another time.
I could go on and on, but most of you have left by now anyway. So just a few little things I learned on this first little trip.
Black cars & pickups. Watch out for em. Iím serious. There are a lot of them out there and most have fast, aggressive drivers who will crowd your space. We quickly learned to be extra watchful and give them plenty of room. For whatever reason, most black vehicles are larger vehicles, fewer being compacts or sub-compacts. Type Aís I guess, for ###holes.
We hear time and again to practice test our brakes for emergency stops. If youíre like me, you probably do it often enough, but most likely at 50 mph or less. Easy enough and we think our brakes are fine and weíre good at stopping our bikes quickly. Try it at 75 or 80 down to a complete stop. Thatís a little scary, but not nearly so as having to panic stop for real at freeway speeds. I had to do it twice on this trip and you go a long, long distance just getting it down to 50, probably twice the distance from 50 to 0. That was a real eye opener. Itíll slow your hiway cruise down, for awhile at least.
Donít. Not on a motorcycle. Both of my panic stops were completely my fault and the result of not paying 100% attention to my surroundings. I saw the group of cars and big rigs all bunched together on up the slab. But I didnít see any brake lights, and besides I was right next to a truck weigh station. My subconscious told me they were just slowed down a little for exiting trucks, but I wasnít focused, just daydreaming and semi aware. Fact was they were slowed down alright, down to a creeping pace of about 10 mph. I woke up, almost too late. My brakes didnít stop my bike as quick as I thought they would. Soon enough thankfully, but not without serious concern. They arenít as good as you thought, or you arenít as good as you thought.
Passing big trucks
Most big rigs will exceed the speed limit a little more often than not. And Iím fine with following one at a pretty good distance that allows plenty of time to react to road conditions or shredded tires (debris) lying in the road. But most of the big guys just canít maintain that speed even on a modest uphill grade. Thatís usually where I pass em, and I like to get around and well away from them quickly. One caveat here. If itís a fairly short and steep rise over the hill, the big guys canít see that much further over the hill than we can on our bikes. Be careful passing one on a hill where visibility ahead is limited. If thereís trouble brewing just over the short hill and youíre passing the big fellow at a quick pace, he may be slowing or braking on purpose before you realize youíre literally flying by. Panic brake stop number two. I donít think I was daydreaming but I sure wasnít thinking ahead.
Mentally prepare yourself.
We realize there may be breakdowns, but do we really mentally prepare ourselves that our little road trip adventure may cost us hundreds or even thousands more than we anticipated. You canít call your buddy to come get your bike when hundreds or thousands of miles away from home. If youíre like me and donít want to go into debt for a bike repair to a strange repair facility that knows youíre stuck and vulnerable, prepare yourself my friend. But please tell me when you find out how. Cause it happens, sooner or later. Fact is our motorcycles break down a lot more often than even ďole jakeĒ our rattletrap truck. You say you have AAA. Fine, thatíll get you to your real expense soon enough. Meals, lodging, transportation, and thumb twisting. All yours. And lord knows when the friendly, smiling repair folks will get around to possibly fixing your bike right. A smile on one side of the counter and a frown on the other somehow doesnít shake out equal. Youíre under warranty, great. Bet you still get charged for something.
I was fortunate. I brought along plenty of the right tools and I contacted and called on the best and likely most experienced Vulcan 500 owner and forum member around, Mr. Bikerbill. Thank you Bill for taking the time to guide me through the troubleshooting steps to get me back on the road, despite you being in the middle of mentoring those scouts that afternoon. I couldnít have found the problem without you.
I had a great time, and hopefully theyíll be more.